Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Animal Music

On the Auditory e-list, a discussion on whether music abilities are among the last abilities to be lost due to brain damage (I'll post more about this later) has evolved into a discussion on the cognition of music by non-humans. Through that, I found this interesting article by Philip Dorrell. He posits that musicality is an attribute of normal speech, and music is a means of super-stimulating the perception of musicality. His conclusions are:

* The sounds that animals make are in almost all cases sounds that serve a communicative function.
* Human music is a super-stimulus for the perception of musicality in speech, and speech is a system of human-generated sounds with a communicative function.
* If some species of animal had an ability to perceive "musicality" similar to how humans perceive it, then there could exist some form of music for that animal such that the relationship between the animal's music and the animal's normal communication sounds was analogous to the relationship between human music and human speech.
* Since no animal has a language that sounds like human language, any form of animal music would not be expected to sound like human music.
* Given that human music is difficult to compose, quite likely animal music would also be difficult to compose, and, in particular, the animals themselves would not be clever enough to know how to compose their own music.
* Some day, when we understand enough about music, we may be able to apply rational rules of musical composition to compose music for other animals. But for now, the ability of composers to compose music depends on their intuition derived from their own subjective experience of appreciating music, and, since there is no easy way to subjectively experience what non-human animals experience, there is no way to develop an intuition about how to compose music for those animals.
* Therefore, animal music exists as a possibility, but not as something that animals themselves can currently create and appreciate in the way that humans do.

It's an interesting idea, though I think he is quite incorrect that "human music is difficult to compose." It is very easy to improvise or compose music. It is difficult to compose really good music. Also, if music is an outgrowth of the language of a particular species, shouldn't the creation of said music be within the cognitive abilities of that species? (Damn, there's my tendency toward Socratic dialogue again. Sorry, Chad.)

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